The GEek, Liberal Democrat Manifesto Reaction

21 November 2019
By Charlotte Pickles
Profile picture for user Charlotte Pickles

Here’s our take on the Lib Dem manifesto:

🥇REFORMING POLICY  

A £10,000 Skills Wallet

The Liberal Democrats have pledged to introduce a Skills Wallet for every adult to help people “retrain and upskill”, with funding released at ages 25, 40 and 55.

UK spend on vocational training per employee is half the EU average, and businesses frequently cite skills shortages as one of the key issues they face.

Learning lessons from failures in the past, the Skills Wallet will allow users to access certified education and training courses and the Liberal Democrats pledge to work with industry to ensure the right skills are being targeted.

With productivity in the UK lagging behind the G7 average this is a policy that could boost the economy as well as deliver better outcomes for citizens.

😤 REACTIONARY POLICY

A dedicated “Health & Social Care Tax”

The Liberal Democrats have pledged to introduce a dedicated “Health & Social Care Tax” to fund health and social care in the long term.

While a ‘hypothecated’ tax (ringfencing revenue for a specific service) might sound attractive, it makes the funding entirely dependent on the economic cycle – when growth slumps, so does the funding for that service.

Inevitably when it comes to the NHS, in that scenario the government would end up topping up the pot, rendering this policy useless.

Public spending decisions should be based on the scope of services government wants to deliver, and how much funding is needed to meet demand, not how much revenue a specific tax can raise.

💬 QUOTE OF THE MANIFESTO

"The great advancements in technology and the ever-changing nature of the world of work mean that more of us will change careers throughout our lives. And it simply isn’t good enough to say that education stops after school or university."

👍 GOOD MANIFESTO FOR

Reducing reoffending

The Liberal Democrats have pledged to introduce a presumption against short prison sentences and increase the use of community sentences. Research shows that on average, under-used community sentences result in lower levels of offending than short prison sentences, which strain links with family, support services, work and accommodation, but offer little chance of rehabilitation. To achieve this, the Liberal Democrats will need to do two things: create a more capable probation workforce to deliver effective, personalised community sentences, and improve training for sentencers on alternatives to custody.

Social housing

The Liberal Democrats have committed to building 100,000 homes for social rent a year. Supporting low-income families in genuinely affordable social housing, rather than the private rented sector, is a smart investment that will save the Government money in the long run. Nothing is said about land reform, however, which will be key to delivering on this ambitious goal.

Responsible capitalism

The Liberal Democrats have pledged to “reform fiduciary duty and company purpose rules” to require large companies to develop a broader statement of company purpose, against which they would be required to report. There have been increasing calls for companies to move beyond ‘shareholder value maximisation’ as the guiding purpose of business and to embrace, as BlackRock CEO Larry Fink has put it, “profit and purpose”. This should help reduce short-termism and deliver a fairer deal for workers and consumers. The Liberal Democrats’ pledge is a small, but important, step in the right direction.

👎 BAD MANIFESTO FOR

Effective policing

The Liberal Democrats have pledged £1 billion for community policing, and have said this would be “enough for two new police officers in every ward”. Community policing can be an effective measure for crime prevention, intelligence gathering, and community relations. But truly effective community policing should be targeted and localised. A blanket approach that places officers in every neighbourhood regardless of need diverts resources from the deprived, high-crime neighbourhoods that need them most. This would not be an effective way to reduce crime or spend taxpayers’ money.

A sustainable state pension

The Liberal Democrats have committed to retaining the Triple Lock on the basic state pension, which means that it rises in line with the highest of wages, prices or 2.5 per cent. As the Work and Pensions Committee has made clear, this is unsustainable. Spending on pensions has already increased by more than half since 2000 and is set to rise further as people are living longer.

Targeted investment

The Liberal Democrats have pledged “a bold offer” of free childcare for every working parent with a child aged over nine months. While access to childcare is key, a universal offer with a price tag of £13 billion is not value for money. Instead of providing free provision for wealthy parents, the Liberal Democrats should ensure affordable childcare is available for all and target additional funding at struggling low-income families.

The Manifesto recognises that Right to Buy has depleted the social housing stock and deepened the social housing crisis, yet it doesn’t commit to scrapping it. Instead the Liberal Democrats have passed the buck to local councils by pledging to devolve full control of the policy. At the same time, the manifesto promises a new “Rent to Own” scheme for social housing where tenants’ rent payments are converted into an increasing stake in the property, and after 30 years the tenant owns their home – thereby depleting the social housing stock. Something doesn’t add up here.

SAY WHAT?

The Manifesto recognises that Right to Buy has depleted the social housing stock and deepened the social housing crisis, yet it doesn’t commit to scrapping it. Instead the Liberal Democrats have passed the buck to local councils by pledging to devolve full control of the policy. At the same time, the manifesto promises a new “Rent to Own” scheme for social housing where tenants’ rent payments are converted into an increasing stake in the property, and after 30 years the tenant owns their home – thereby depleting the social housing stock. Something doesn’t add up here.

Reform's comment: 

Commenting on the Liberal Democrats proposed hypothecated Health and Care Tax, Reform Health Lead and Research Manager, Claudia Martinez, said:

“The Liberal Democrats’ pledge to introduce a ring-fenced health and social care tax is profoundly misguided. It ties NHS funding to an unpredictable economic cycle and takes no account of the fact that health and social care spending is increasing at a faster rate than GDP.

“Far from showing the NHS is safe in Liberal Democrat hands, this policy places risk on a system that desperately needs financial certainty.”

Commenting on the manifesto, Charlotte Pickles, Director of the Reform think tank, said:

“The Liberal Democrats’ pledge to reduce the national debt is welcome, but this fiscal prudence is undermined by the sheer scale of manifesto spending commitments.

“Universal welfare pledges such as maintaining the pensions triple lock and committing £13bn to expand free childcare may be electorally appealing, but they’re a waste of taxpayers’ money.

“While this manifesto does contain some promising policies – such as a later life skills budget and support for carers – it is not a viable programme for government.”